Analysis of numbers in article about staged bike thefts

by Shannon Lee
A journalist from the St. Cloud Times used numbers from an experiment to report on witnesses' reactions to staged bike thefts on the St. Cloud State University campus.
The numbers were used to support the finding that people most often did not report the bike thefts they witnessed.
The writer often expressed the numbers in terms of a relationship to make them clearer. In the fourth paragraph, he wrote that out of 25 staged thefts, only one was reported. By expressing the numbers in this way, he not only let the reader know that most witnesses did not respond, but also told them the number of times the experiment was conducted.
In the sixth paragraph the reporter used numbers to give context to his story. He wrote that 24 percent of 149 "significant" university thefts reported in 2009 were of stolen bicycles. Using a percentage to frame the numbers was a stronger choice than if he had just written, "Out of 149 significant thefts, 36 bicycles were stolen."
Near the end of the article, the reporter used numbers again to highlight some of the more surprising details of the experiment. He wrote that experimenters counted the number of people within about 20 feet of each theft. In one case, he wrote there were 105 people within 20 feet of the theft who either did not see or did not report it.
Using basic math, the reporter effectively used numbers in his story. The only problem I found with the article was that it did not provide a report for those numbers. The writer just stated that the experiment was done by a psychology class. He included the name and quotes from the class instructor, but there was no way to view the experiment in detail.

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This page contains a single entry by Shannon published on November 14, 2010 5:41 PM.

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